‘Tis But thy Name that is My Enemy*

               This past week, I was finally able to decide something about myself that I have been struggling with for years. I’m changing my name. The name I have chosen, Samuel McAuliff, requires some explanation, as does the reasons for the change. I will say here what I said to my friends when I told them: I am not transitioning to male, but I will be switching to “they/them/their” pronouns. And, embracing the term “gender neutral” as a term that applies to me.

               I have never felt inclined towards one gender or another, which is why I won’t be transitioning to male. If I were to flip to male pronouns and refer to myself as a man, it would be just as much a lie as it is when I say I’m a woman. Even before I had come to terms with this realization, I’ve always known that I’m a “somewhere in between” kind of person, in more areas than gender. Ask me about a topic, and though I will lean to the left of any given issue, I will also clearly see the middle ground. And that’s what my gender and my gender presentation has always been: the neutral middle ground.

               Every time I’m in a waiting room and hear my birth name called, I cringe and grudgingly admit that I am the one they just called. Every time I must fill out a form and check “F”, I hesitate. Always. I look hopefully to see if, in this enlightened age, someone will have finally seen fit to include a third option. It could say “other”, it could be fill in the blank, just something that allows those of us who are in the middle or on the margins to be able to stand up and be counted in the way we feel the most comfortable. So that I wouldn’t feel as if I just lied to my doctor or a future employer or anyone else who wants me to make that arbitrary choice. But, they haven’t, and I choose “female,” and feel like a fraud.

               This is what the DSM-5 has to say about gender dysphoria:

For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Nope, I’m not in there either. There is no room for gender neutral or non-binary folks in that definition. The APA, though they have made great strides in their care and treatment of gay and trans folks, is still, as usual, behind the times. They still see the world through a hetero-normative lens, at least officially.

               So, how are we, those who don’t fit in the prefabricated, carved out niches, supposed to find our place? Simple: we forge ahead and make our own way. We tell you the names and pronouns we have chosen and ask you to use them. If you love and respect us, you will.

               The name I have chosen, like all who change their name (trans or otherwise) has meaning to me. It’s not a name that my parents picked, which I’ve never related to. That name has meaning to them. My first name that they had chosen, depending on who you ask, my mother or her brother, Vic, came with a story. The way my mother always told the story, she had been set to name me after her baby sister, Penny Sue, but then my six-year-old brother asked her to name the baby after a neighbor girl he had a crush on. My uncle claims that I was named for the woman he was dating at the time. Since my mother’s story is cuter and she’s not around to ask, I’ve chosen to believe her story as the right one. My middle name, there is no mystery, it was my paternal grandmother’s first name. It’s a bit of a mouthful, a bit old-fashioned, and not representative of me at all. Over the last several years, while I’ve been contemplating what to do about my name and what I would change it to, two names kept recurring to me: Samuel and Maxwell. So, that’s where I’ve landed, Samuel Maxwell. I know what you might be thinking, they’re both male names and I clearly said I’m not a male. Simple answer: I like them. They are just words we have all collectively decided to use as names. They, like the rest of us, were assigned a gender they didn’t ask for. For my last name, I have chosen McAulliff. I have my reasons. It was the maiden name of my paternal grandmother, the one whose name I have as a middle name. It is also the side of our family with the most Irish heritage, which is appealing to me, as I’ve always identified more with that side of my heritage. Plus, since I am planning to divest myself of her first name, taking her maiden name is the least I can do to pay homage to the woman I have come to terms with that I am the most alike.

               My grandmother was a formidable woman, even though her stature didn’t bear that out. She was a tavern owner since before I was born, and could and did throw grown, drunken men out on their ear if they misbehaved in her bar. More to the point, she could make them contrite and apologetic. She had a keen, biting sense of humor. She saw the humor in everything and would often use her sarcastic humor against people, usually to the point where they weren’t always aware, they had just been made fun of. Every time she’d crack wise against someone else, she would catch my eye and wink, drawing me into the joke. Of course, just because she could see in me a fellow conspirator, that didn’t mean I was immune from her barbs. This is a behavior I have often engaged in myself as an adult, but it took me forever to realize that I am doing the same things she did.

               I’m not ready to run down to the courthouse and change it legally, not yet. I’m going to follow the same protocol that a trans person follows when they change their name: I’m going to use it for a year and see how it feels. If it continues to feel right, then I will make the appointment. Although, I have to say, I used it for the first time publicly a few nights ago at the writer’s open mic I go to. They accepted this change without question and when they called me by my chosen name it felt more right than the one I’ve been called for the past forty-six years. As my best friend later said, “That’s not surprising at all. You’ve always known you weren’t a Tammy.” She’s not wrong.

  • Title is a reference to Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II, Juliet’s “What’s in a name?” speech.

Chasing Windmills and Rooting for Underdogs

Though I started college as an English major, with the intent of honing my writing skills and someday making my living as a writer, I did not finish my undergrad in that major. Instead, I had grown frustrated with my department (not the last time in my entire college career I would do so, see grad school) and decided, as they say in the world of drama, to go off book. In this case, I ended up designing my own major, comprising elements from English, psychology, and speech communications. All to avoid one man. I was successful in this venture and have not regretted the education I left there with. However, it did leave me with some holes in my reading, which I have only recently started to rectify. I recently finished Thoreau’s Walden, which, if you’re a reader of this blog, you were aware that I wrote on it a few times. Yesterday I picked up Don Quixote for the first time. My goal is to have it halfway completed by the end of the day. So, while I take a break from reading, I thought I would go ahead and write up this week’s blog.

            Having never read the story before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, though it has become such a part of popular culture that I knew of fighting windmills and that the musical, (which I’ve never seen) Man of La Mancha was based on the story. That’s really it. What I couldn’t have known was that Don Quixote is a slapstick comedy, on par with anything Mel Brooks has ever done. There’re witty asides, toilet humor, pratfalls, and one loyal squire who occasionally makes sport of his coocoo for Cocoa Puffs master. It has it all. I have laughed out loud more times than I care to admit over a story written over three hundred years ago. But, there’s more to the book than that, there are definite serious elements.

            For those who haven’t read it, the story begins by telling us that a middle-aged country gentlemen, who spends all his time reading books about knights of yore and that of chivalry, has gone mad with all this reading, and gone off in search of adventure after renaming himself Don Quixote of La Mancha, with the intent to fight for his lady fair (who has no idea she is thus regarded), a comely lass from a nearby village, whom he renames Dulcinea. Upon his adventures, he mistakes inns for castles, windmills for dragons, and sheep for opposing armies. These things are used for comedic effect, which is done quite well. At different times in history, the story has been read in different lights, depending upon the time. At the time I’m reading it, I see the story, though hilarious, also from a different angle. Don Quixote’s madness is seen as something to be made fun of, and the idea that one could go mad from too much reading amuses me and makes sense, as it should to anyone pursuing higher education.

            However, seen from a different angle, one could see the loyal knight’s misadventures as a manifestation of schizophrenic behavior, or, given his age, simply dementia. Were the novel written today, our hapless hero may well have been seen as a tragic hero, instead of one to simply laugh and point fingers at. But, reading the novel this way is to fall into what we call in academia, historical bias. Meaning, to read a work written a long time ago through the lenses of current mores and social sensibilities.  It is something I and my fellow grad school classmates received more than one lecture against.

            Also, this novel did something way ahead of its time: it made a stand for women’s independence in the form of Marcella the shepherd, beloved of Chrysostom, who did not return his feelings. Her spurning his love was seen as a betrayal, by Chrysostom, as well as by his male comrades, especially when, out of grief, he took his own life. When the men tried to turn on Marcella in defense of their fallen brother, she turned the tables on them and gave her own sermon on the mount, with the subject being women’s independence. She gave such a stirring speech, I had to read it out loud. It is so on point with today’s mindset, that I could hear the sass in her voice and see the side to side head bod each time she made her case. The points she brought up were such as, why should she, even after she told a man she wasn’t interested in him,  be responsible for whatever stupid thing he did in her name? Also, it was her contention that she just wanted to be left in peace, though the men didn’t seem to care about that. “I was born free and, so that I might live free, I chose the solitude of the fields…My life is free and I do not wish to be subject to the will of another person. I neither love nor hate anyone. I do not deceive this man nor entice that man. nor do I jest with one man or amuse myself with another.” Then, after saying a bit more about how the forests and God’s creation was more than enough for her, she dropped the proverbial mic and turned her back on the men and went back into the forest. Once she was gone, Don Quixote stood up for her right to do as she pleased, and thus declared her the most virtuous of all. However, the other men didn’t pay the crazy man any heed, as they had just buried their brother and needed someone to blame. All that said, I was cheering Marcella’s “go girl” speech the whole time. It’s a rousing moment for women everywhere. It is my hope that Marcella got her wish and was able to live out the rest of her days alone in the forest, with nothing but nature surrounding her, abiding by her will alone.

            Over the next few days as I finish this novel, I’m not sure what ending awaits Don Quixote. I’ve promised myself not to Google it ahead of time. Will he eventually find a real enemy to slay, and actually win a fight? Will he win the heart of Dulcinea, whose real name is Aldonza Lorenzo? Or will his niece and the town priest, who have already burned most of his books and sealed off the rest in his study, succeed in breaking his spirit and turning him into just the retched old man who has lost his wits, as they perceive him to be? I am anxious to find out. I’m rooting for him, as Don Quixote, nee Alonso Quixano, is the ultimate underdog we all want to succeed.

The Week I Share My Homework

What can I say? It’s been a busy week. And next week is stacking up to be just as bad. What that means is I was brain dead when it came time to come up with a blog post this week. So, I decided to get into the Way Way Back Machine, and where I came out was February, 2012. It was a simpler time then. There was a sane, black man in the White House, and I was attending The University of Oklahoma in pursuit of my second masters degree. With that in mind, what follows was a weekly class assignment for one of my feminism classes. No, I was not a feminism major, but you might say it was a minor. But, that part’s boring. Every week we were tasked with writing reports on the week’s reading. I chose this particular one because I’ve always liked the Virginia Woolf quote. And because, writing. Good luck next week, there might be new material then. Only time will tell.

…”give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days” (Woolf, 1929)[i].  Though not quite as forthright as Helene Cixous in The Laugh of the Medusa but the point is the same:  leave women alone and let them write.  Cixous points out that often women don’t write because they don’t feel that their writing is good enough but she calls upon women to write in order that their voices be heard in this phallocentric world. 

The work is quite clearly a call to arms, so to speak, to all women to not be afraid of their creativity, whatever way that creativity expresses itself.  Cixous uses sexual metaphors repeatedly to express her point.  She equates writing in secret with masturbation, which, in a way, it is.  It is a way of expressing yourself, of releasing pent-up feelings, of letting yourself go.  Cixous wants women to no longer be afraid of their bodies or their minds.  She wants women to follow whatever desires they have because if they don’t no one is going to do it for them.  The only way to survive in this man’s world is to finally speak out and be heard.  Cixous is trying to rouse women to action with her stirring words.  It’s a pep talk of phallic proportions. 

I think the comparison to Woolf is an accurate one, as Woolf also wanted women to write.  She wanted women to write the works of genius she knew they were capable of and wanted women to know they had permission to do so.  But her main point was that in order to create these works of genius women needed privacy and security, two things women often lacked.  She also wanted women to appreciate the works of those who came before.  She extolled women to pay homage to their foremothers for having the courage to write and pave the way.[ii]  Cixous, however, mainly just wanted women to not let anyone hold them back.  She knew that woman was her own worst enemy. 


Woolf, V. (1929). A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace and Company.

[ii] “Jane Austen should have laid a wreath upon the grave of Fanny Burney, George Eliot done homage to the robust shade of Eliza Carter…All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds” (Woolf, 1929).

Open Letter to Generation Z

            I couple nights ago I attended a writer’s open mic at a local café. It was sponsored by the local university and the venue is just a block off campus. Not a part of town I go to often and I had never been to that café before, but I had some idea of what to expect: college kids. And that’s who was there, a whole gaggle of them. I arrived early and began scoping out the crowd, trying to decide if I was going to sign up to read my work or not. I wasn’t sure how I, a forty-six year old butch lesbian, or my work, autobiographical fiction, would play with the crowd. I was relieved when a friend in my age range showed up and he confirmed that he was going to read, also autobiographical prose. So, I said the hell with it and put my name on the list.

            As before any event wherein I speak in front of people, I started to get a little nervous, but not nearly as nervous as I used to. College helped cure the larger part of my jitters by constantly having me give presentations of one type or another. I’ve done book reports, persuasive speeches, research presentations, debates, two theses defenses (one in front of a theater audience), and book readings of my own work. But, there were still some nerves. It was a new crowd to me, plus I was literally twice their age. I was worried that my work wouldn’t be relatable to them, and, to be fair, they generally weren’t my target audience, though I’d be happy to count them as such. So, I had some concerns.

            I contemplated texting a writer friend of mine to get her advice, sort of a WWAD (What Would April Do?) moment. Then, I realized what she would do, and that is that she would tell me to go for it. I’m sure she would have said something encouraging also, a textual pat on the back. With that in mind, I stood up to read my piece, trying to keep my voice from shaking. I found it difficult to make eye contact with the audience until the very end, where the text was written in such a way that it was more poignant to do so, because, though I had practiced, I didn’t have it memorized. That being said, the audience reacted the way I had hoped they would by laughing in the right places, knowing nods back and forth when I read something that they related to, and the proverbial snaps of approval.

            Granted, the applause and snaps are expected out of politeness, as they are a supportive group, but for me it was the laughs and knowing nods that did it. It wasn’t a polite reaction, it was a connection with the work, even if it was for a moment, one line maybe. Something I had written was relatable to them, and that was encouragement enough for me.  

            I was inspired to write the following poem, which I plan to read at the next open mic.

Open Letter to Gen. Z

Upon our last meeting, I was ruminating on our age difference,

and wondered if there was something, I could share with you,

pass on, as it were, considering my advanced years.

After thinking on it some time, I concluded

that anything I would have to say would be outdated

at best and condescending at worst. So, I almost chucked

it all, but I’m not a quitter, so I figured I’d give it the ol’

college try. College try, that’s just something we use to say.

As I went through my vast rolodex of topics I could talk about—

rolodex, that’s this thing that use to sit on desks and hold information—

like a paper version of Google. Anyway, as I was going through my mental

notes, I wondered what wisdom I could pass on to you—

I figured the best course of action would be to go from my own experience

and pass on some hard-learned truths.

Okay, here goes:

don’t fuck someone because they have a nice smile,

and definitely don’t marry them and let them ruin your credit.

Don’t go for style, go for substance, because pretty

doesn’t last but substance will stand by you.

Don’t apply for a job if you don’t understand what the qualifications mean,

and don’t turn your nose up taking a job you didn’t go to school for

because your landlord won’t give two shits that you aced all your English classes.

Remember what it’s like to be poor so that you don’t become an asshole

in your forties who thinks only slackers are on welfare and the homeless lack motivation.

March, and protest, and yell, and make your voices heard and do not go gentle into that good night…rage against the dying of the planet and all the bullshit and fuckery

that the generations before you have left you with.

Someone has to save this place.

Considering your inheritance, it’s amazing that your generation is so peaceful. But I understand.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m tired of the dying, and I’m tired of the hate.

I’m tired of the lying and I’m tired of wondering how many people will die today.

So, I leave you with this: good luck. We’re counting on you. No pressure.

After all, how worse could it get?